Wednesday, April 8, 2015

D is for Dorian Gray

True confession time: I've never read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I enjoyed Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest, and have heard great things about his only novel.  (Though some online plot summaries make it sound like a veritable chemistry lesson of Victorian potions and poisons.)

After the novel initially appeared serialized in a magazine, Wilde republished it in 1891, putting back in the naughty bits that the magazine censors cut out.  He also added a manifesto-like preface, which I'll include first as a verbatim page view -- to preserve his strange indenting typography -- then later call out some choice quotes.

All art is immoral, but you should still click to enlarge.

I find it a bit incoherent and dream-like, but I think that's part of Wilde's overall charm.  This preface sounds a bit like a mathematical proof, which starts out with a postulate,
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
and ends up with a conclusion,
All art is quite useless.
Q.E.D.?  But there are winding byways in between that shouldn't be missed, such as...
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
Wise words for all works of art, and for Biblical exegesis, too!  :-)

Wilde also treated this fugue-like series of propositions as a quasi-legal defense of his subject matter, which tended to go beyond the prudish norms that were supposed to constrain a respectable upper-class artist like himself...
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
My favorite part, about critical responses to art,
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.
kind of sounds like something that Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) would have said in his memorable soliloquy from the end of Pixar's Ratatouille, doesn't it?

I aim to be in accord with myself.


  1. The novel is very fascinating - a good read!

    1. After writing this post, it's now on my list! I've also been meaning to tackle Lovecraft -- who kind of extended Wilde's fin de siècle spookiness well into the 20th century. :-)

  2. 'When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.'

    I'm not a tattoo person, but if I were ...

    1. "Oscar Wilde tattoo"

      Don't type those words... just don't. :-)